How Joan Defeated the English in Fair Field
The Maid had now driven the English away from Orleans, and had taken a strong town which they held, a thing the French, without her, had failed to do. She was next to beat their army in the open country and in fair field. We know most about this battle from a book written by a gentleman named Pierre de Cagny, who rode with the Duke of Alençon and knew what happened, and wrote all down very soon afterwards. He says that the Maid placed a garrison of soldiers to keep Jargeau, and then rode to Orleans with the Duke, where the townspeople gave a great feast to her and her friends. But she did not stay long to be petted and praised at Orleans. In the evening she said to the Duke, "I am going, after dinner to-morrow, to see the English at Meun. Have the men ready to march." She easily made Meun surrender, and then her guns fired at the town of Beaugency.
Then news came to Joan that the whole English army, under Talbot and Sir John Fastolf (who cannot be Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare, for the fat knight was dead), were marching against her. Now Sir John Fastolf, though a very brave captain, thought, like the fat knight, that "discretion was the better part of valour." He wished to be cautious, and to avoid a battle, for he saw that the French were in high spirits, while the English soldiers had lost heart. This is told in the book written by a knight named Jean de Wavrin, a Burgundian. He was, like all of them of Burgundy, on the English side, and he rode under the banner of Sir John Fastolf.
I tell you generally how we come to know the things done by the Maid, to show that the story is true, as the people who described it were present, and saw what happened.
The other English captains thought Sir John rather too cautious, and Talbot said, "By St. George, I will fight if I have only my own few men with me!" Next morning the English rode out with banners flying, and again Sir John said that they were too few, and that they were risking all that Henry V. had gained in France. But Talbot and the rest would not listen to him, so the trumpets blew, and the horsemen rode on towards Meun, which Joan had taken. When they came to a place about three miles from Meun, and three from Beaugency, they saw the banner of the Maid, with Our Lord and the Lilies of France, and the banners of the Duke of Alençon, and Dunois, and La Hire, and young Pothon de Xaintrailles, a very gallant boy, waving over the ranks of 6000 men.
The English then did what Henry V. had taught them to do. They dismounted from their horses to fight on foot, and made each bowman plant his sharp stake in front of him, to stop a cavalry charge. This plan usually succeeded. The French were fond of charging with their cavalry at full speed, and then were usually shot down in heaps by the English bowmen, whom they could not reach, as they were safe behind their fence of pikes. Then the dismounted English would rush out, sword in hand, among the disordered French cavalry.
You see this was much like part of the battle of Waterloo, when the French cavalry many times rode at the English squares, and could not break through the bayonets, while the English were shooting at them—not very straight!
By this plan of fighting the English had often defeated the French, and usually defeated the Scots, who generally made a wild rush at them. At the battle of Dupplin, soon after Robert Bruce died, the English archers shot from each flank till the Scots, as they charged, fell dead in heaps as high as a tall spear. But Dunois, and the fair Duke, and the Maid knew this plan. They sent a herald to bid the English go home to bed; it was late; "to-morrow we shall have a nearer view of each other."
The English, therefore, went off to Meun, where nobody resisted them except the French soldiers who guarded the bridge over the Loire. The English meant to beat the French from the bridge with their cannons, cross the river, and march to help their friends in Beaugency, which had not yet yielded to Joan. The English would thus take Joan's army between two fires, that of Beaugency, and that of Talbot's army.
But that very night the English in Beaugency lost heart, and yielded to the Maid, being allowed to march away with their arms and horses. Joan now bade the French captains go with her army, and look for Talbot's and Fastolf's force, who would hear of the surrender of Beaugency, and retreat to Paris through the country called La Beauce.
"But how are we to find the English?" the French leaders asked Joan: for they would be in a wild, empty country covered with forests.
"Ride forth," she said; "we shall take them all. As to finding them, you shall have a good guide!"
They had a strange guide, as you shall hear.
The English were marching along, in front was their advanced guard, under a knight who carried a white banner. Next came the guns, with the waggons full of provisions. Third was the main body of the army, under Talbot and Fastolf; and last rode the rear-guard. When they were near a place called Pathay, their scouts galloped in, with news that they had seen the French army. The English halted, and sent out more scouts, who rode back with the same news.
So Talbot sent his advanced guard, the guns, and the waggons behind some tall hedges. The main body of the English army was being placed at the end of a long lane between two thick hedges, and Talbot set five hundred of his best archers to lurk behind these hedges, between which the French would have to pass before they could attack the centre of his forces. If the French once entered this long lane, they would be shot down, and fall into such confusion among their own fallen men and wounded horses, that they would neither be able to go forward nor back, and would all be killed or taken prisoners.
The French of Joan's army could not see what Talbot was doing, and the trap he had set, nor where his army was, the country being covered with wood and bracken, and the English being concealed by the swelling of the ground. However, they rode forward fast, and would have been between the fire of the two hidden lines of English bowmen in a minute, when, lo and behold! they had "the good guide" that Joan had promised them! As they rode they roused a stag from the bracken where he was lying: the stag rushed forward into the concealed lines of English archers, and they, being hunters like Robin Hood's men, forgot to lie still, and raised a view halloo, and shot at the stag. Then the foremost riders of the French heard them, and knew where the English were lying in ambush. When Talbot saw that his ambush was found out, he hurried the main body of his army up to the hedges. Sir John Fastolf's men were spurring their horses on to join their advanced guard, but the English knight of the white banner who led thought that Fastolf's cavalry were French, and that the French were attacking his men both in front and rear. So he and his company ran away leaving the lane unguarded. Thus, when the battle began, Talbot was defeated by Joan's cavalry, and taken prisoner, and 2200 of the English were killed or taken before Fastolf came up. He and his horsemen then rode away as fast as they could, to save their lives, and for this behaviour Sir John got into very deep disgrace, though, according to Wavrin, who was with him, he really could have done nothing else, as Talbot was beaten before he could arrive. As Wavrin had taken part in the flight, he had to make as good a defence of Sir John as he could. At all events, Joan and her party won a very great victory, the battle of Pathay.
Now look what Joan had done. She drove the English from Orleans on 8th May. Then the Dauphin took to holding long and weary councils, and she did not get another chance to fight the English till about 4th June, so nearly a month of her one year of time was wasted. On with June she took Jargeau, on 15th June she took Meun, on 17th June she took Beaugency, and on 18th June she destroyed Talbot's chief army at Pathay!
The Duke of Alençon tells us that he himself heard Joan tell the Dauphin, again and again, that "she would only last for a year, or not much longer, and that he must make haste." She had four things to do, she said: to drive the English in flight, to crown the King at Rheims, to deliver Orleans, and to set free the Duke of Orleans, who was a prisoner in England.
She did drive the English in flight, she did save Orleans, she did have the Dauphin crowned. But the French would not make haste. The Dauphin was always slow, and the stupid political advisers who never fought but only talked, made him more slow, and, when Joan's year was over, for her prophecy was true, she was taken prisoner by the English. Therefore they were not driven quite out of France till about twenty years or more after the end of the year of Joan the Maid. It was not her fault. She knew that her time was short, and she told them to make haste. When she was asked how she knew things that were to happen, she said that her Voices told her, "my Council," she called them. But there was a French noble, La Tremoïlle, the King's favourite, and he was jealous of Joan and Dunois and the Constable of Brittany, an enemy of his, who had now come to ride under Joan's flag.
This Tremoïlle, and others, did not want to fight, and hoped to make friends with the Duke of Burgundy, whose army, though really French, fought on the side of the English. Now the one chance was to keep hitting the English hard and often, while they were shaken by their defeats, and before they had time to bring a new host from home. In England there was an army ready, which had been collected by Cardinal Beaufort, to fight the Hussites, a kind of warlike Protestants who were active in Germany. As soon as Joan had beaten the English at Orleans, they made up their minds to send this new army of theirs to protect Paris, where most of the people, and the University, were on the English side. They also made an arrangement with James I. of Scotland, so that they had nothing to fear from the Scots coming over the Border to attack them. The English were able to do all this because La Tremoïlle and his friends advised the Dauphin to loiter about, instead of making haste, as Joan desired, to keep on beating the English.